War on Terrorism

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

30 Days Through Afghanistan: The Man with the Black Hat – Day 21

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan, ISAF Joint Command Public Affairs

March 2, 2010 - We keep running into these extremely interesting civilians who can never talk to us officially, but teach us so much about counter insurgency and what’s happening in Afghanistan. It sucks for Ken because video cameras scare them away but I can get in there and really get some good information.

Today’s secret man was in his late 40’s, wore a black 8-point hat, dressed professionally and was sitting quietly before I went outside to catch some fresh air. When I came back in, poor Ken was embroiled in conversation with him. I say poor because I could see how badly he wanted to capture it on film, but it just wasn’t going to happen.

We found out later that this man works for the U.S. State Department. By design, it takes a lot of approvals for them to talk with anyone with a camera for good reason. I believe the relationship between media and government agencies in the United States have soured over the years because, one, the government can be hard to work with and may not relinquish information easily and two, media sometimes takes half of the information from the government and then makes a truthful, yet incomplete story from it. The lack of a seamless relationship between the two is resulting in our inability to get these incredible people on camera.

Regardless, I’m going to tell their stories anyway because what they have to say and what they are seeing is incredibly important to Afghanistan.

Before I dive into the intricacies of this man’s experiences, I’m going to make a quick note. The Afghan National Police are, as a whole, incapable for now. There are pockets of successes across the country, but every subject matter expert we’ve talked to, including the ANP chief at the mountain pass, agrees there is a lot of work and mentoring to be done with the ANP. Whether its corruption, lack of training lack of weapons or poor logistics, it’s all here and it’s on ISAF’s priority list.

Back with the man in the black hat, our conversation covered a range of very interesting topics, including his close relationships with village elders and his experiences training police in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s been in this country for about five years. I wish I could cover all of the topics, but I try to stick to one at a time and horde the rest for future travel days.

One of the most interesting stories he told us was about how he worked with the ANP a few years ago. It was just him and the police officers, lots of them. So he would work and train with them daily and end up in fights with them against anti-Afghan fighters. One success story he told us about was a time when he and his police officers were pinned down by the Taliban in a ditch. None of the police officers would get up and start fighting. He then jumped up himself and lead from the front and the ANP “kicked some serious *** that day.” When he told us this story his eyes filled with passion and he talked about how these Afghans are brave, they just need strong leadership to get them through tough situations. The same challenges can be seen in any of ISAF’s contributing nations, so much comes down to leadership. But leaders need to be well trained, experienced and intelligent. The ANP unit he was with was successful because he led them, and since those guys have now been through it, learned and understand how to operate, they can move on to help other ANP units.

He told us how ISAF gets training wrong sometimes by sitting the Afghans down and showing them PowerPoint slides and talking line by line through a translator. He said the key to training Afghans is to first teach them why they need to learn it.

He referenced one of his ANP classes he taught awhile ago. He was teaching them AK-47 basics. One of the students told him he didn’t need to learn anything about the AK-47 because his father was a Mujahadeen fighter. So he took the class out to the range, and asked the student to take some shots at a target, the shots were all over the place and the student understood why he needed the education. He also talked of other concepts, such as proving to the Afghans why the training is important and to also keep it fun. I wish the U.S. military schools I have attended throughout my career would listen to the man in the black hat, because it has takes an incredible amout of discipline for me to keep my eyes open.

It amazed me how simple the concepts were but how easy they could be looked over. I’ve seen both good and bad training during my travels around the country and I believe as time passes and the concepts of counter insurgency continue to trickle down from ISAF headquarters, the training will improve and the capability of the ANP will improve along with it.

The man in the black hat told us a lot of stories and shared with us a lot of experiences. I have them written in my notebook, I hope to share them later, because it was a rare glimpse into a very interesting Afghanistan perspective.

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